Gary Numan – The Pleasure Principle – Round 56 – Graham’s Choice

Doubt if anyone noticed but I have been numan AWOL for sometime as a result of a bit of bother. On the upside I did manage to slip in ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ at Round 53 while nobody was looking and two fellow members were being far too polite for their own good.

I don’t think anyone, including me saw this one coming. An impulse buy a few days before I hadn’t really had the time to listen properly myself. Why buy it?

Well firstly I was sticking to the prescribed theme of artists with a “generous amount or lack of hair”. Through his remarkable rug transformation, Gary ticks both ends of this spectrum.

Secondly, I keep reading and seeing documentaries where Mr. N. is now being held up as a innovator and still find it hard to believe that people like Afrika Bambaataa are talking about his influence of hip-hop. There might be something about the simplicity of some his tracks meant they leant themselves to be easier to mix? Apart from the inevitable ‘Cars’ the only track I recognised on this album was ‘M.E.’, and that was from Basement Jaxx’s  sampling for ‘Where’s your head at’.

I wouldn’t now describe myself as a ‘Numanoid’ but I was quite surprised by what I heard. I had expected more ‘pop’ as that is what I thought Gary was all about in 1979, but ‘Cars’ is really all you get on this album. ‘Metal’ is a stand out track and on the whole the sound is far darker, moodier, gothic (and quite dull on occasion) than I was expecting. I suppose pre-Midge Ultravox was my only reference point at the time, but Gary’s chart success had me pigeon hole him as a purely pop act.

At the end of the day he retired briefly in 1981 to fly around the world and got arrested in India, they don’t come much more Rock ‘n’ Roll than that.

Tom Listened: Graham stated in his introduction to this record that I would hate it. I’m not sure why he would have come to that conclusion as prior to the meeting my experiences of Gary Numan have been wholly positive – to my knowledge, I had heard two Gary Numan songs (you know which ones) and I like Cars well enough. Are Friends Electric on the other hand, I have always thought of as close to brilliant, the blueprint that Cars tried desperately not to ape (but failed) and a song that has stood the test of time, its standing in my mind being even further enhanced by The Sugarbabes glorious sample on Freak Like Me. Unfortunately, The Pleasure Principle seemed to contain a dozen versions of Cars – pleasant enough, certainly not something I would hate, but not really a boat floater either.

Nick listened: Despite Graham’s suggestion that I might have explored Numan’s oeuvre some time ago and then moved on, I never actually have; I’ve never properly listened to Kraftwerk either, and the reasons are similar; they’ve both been so completely and fully assimilated into so many other things that it seems to have obviated any desire I might have to explore them. I guess that’s how Rob feels about The Beatles. This was, as suggested, actually quite light on pop songs, but very pleasantly heavy on synth-y instrumentals, like simpler, less spooky versions of side two of Low. I really rather enjoyed it.

Rob listened: ‘Cars’ is better than ‘Are Friends Electric?’ I enjoyed listening to this. I’d always considered Gary Numan a little too earnest for my liking, or at least guessed his records would be that way. Somehow I had him bracketed with bands which take themselves just that teensy weensy little bit more seriously than they really ought to. And use too much black hair dye. Step forward Siouxsie and the Banshees, Killing Joke, Nine Inch Nails and Chris de Burgh. In actual fact, the only thing these artists really have in common is that i’ve drawn lazy conclusions about them without ever listening and that I’m likely completely wrong about them. Except Chris de Burgh.

I enjoyed this, as I may have said. I thought the synth sounds were really substantial, which surprised me, and I could hear immediately how influential it had been, even if I couldn’t quite tease out the through-lines.

Tom Couldn’t Resist Taking The Bait: Just listened to both Cars and Are Friends Electric? You’re wrong, my friend!


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